Editor’s note: The decisions of the 2017 Synod have been reported to the Protestant Reformed congregations in daily emailed reports, and are available online at prca.org. Therefore, this editorial makes no attempt to be a comprehensive report.
Prayer is a wonder. It is a privilege that God gives to His people whereby they communicate with God. It is an act of worship, clearly. A believer, a sinful, earthly creature, is given access to the courts of heaven. From this earth, he addresses God, the “wholly Other,” the glorious Creator, exalted far above all that He has made. He is the One before whom the angels, who are without sin, cover their faces and their feet and cry out continually, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3). And when a believer prays, God hears and pays attention to the words. And then consider that such a believer is only one of millions of believers who may be calling on God in prayer at that same time. Prayer is a miracle.
That God answers the prayers of His people is astounding. God is the all-wise, omniscient Lord of heaven and earth, who knows the situation of each and every believer, and who knows precisely what each one needs before any request is made. This God answers prayer. He forgives sin, gives grace, com forts, heals, blesses, all in answer to the prayers of His people.
The relationship between the prayers of believers and the counsel of God is mysterious, but real. God’s counsel is His comprehensive, sovereign determination of all creatures and all events. Of this counsel, God Himself declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Is. 46:10). And yet, God executes His counsel, if I may put it that way, using the prayers of His people.
The relationship between prayer and God’s counsel is evident from Isaiah 38. The prophet Amos brought this message to king Hezekiah from Jehovah, “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live” (v. 1). Hezekiah, who had no son, prayed to God and “wept sore” at the cutting off of his line, the line of David. The prophet Isaiah soon came with this word from God, “I have heard thy prayer…. I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (v. 5). What God intended eternally, namely, that Hezekiah would live fifteen more years and have a son, God fulfilled. But notice how God used Hezekiah’s prayer.
Believers pray much; they pray daily; they pray often. Admittedly, and sadly, urgency in our prayers is often low. It is not until the need is great, or the crisis severe, that we pray fervently—the fervency of which James wrote, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
The 2017 Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches that met in Hudsonville PRC June 13-21 saw and experienced the truth of James 5:16. This was evident, first, in the seven graduates from the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. This is the largest class ever to graduate from the seminary. These men entered seminary proper in 2013, having started pre-seminary Greek in 2011. They came in response to the work of the Spirit convicting them that they must pursue the gospel ministry. But before they came to seminary, the Spirit had put the desire for ministers into the hearts of Protestant Reformed members. In 2008 we saw three vacant congregations, in 2009 five vacancies, and in 2010 six vacant churches. The churches prayed earnestly that the King of the church would give men equipped by the Spirit for the work of the ministry of the Word. The Lord answered, sending nine men. The churches continued to pray for the seminary and the students. And the Lord answered, preserving seven of these men through their studies, internships, and synodical exams, until Synod 2017 could unanimously say of each: We declare you “to be a candidate for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the PRCA, eligible for a call on or after July 15, 2017.”
The churches prayed. The Lord answered graciously. Should we now cease praying? Clearly not. These seven men need our continued prayers for wisdom and grace, for a pastor’s heart, and for courage for the struggles ahead.
And the need for more ministers continues. There will be no seminary graduates in 2018. Three are currently in the class of 2019, but then, so far as we know now, the earliest there would be a graduate from the PRCA is four years later! By that year (2023), many vacancies could be created with ministers and professors (perhaps ten?) laying down the active ministry. Let us continue to pray!
The churches besought the Lord for missions, in particular the work in the Philippines. We asked the Lord to provide a man to be a missionary in the Philippines. The Lord answered, convicting Rev. Dan Holstege that he was called to this work. The churches continued to pray as they saw a family with four young children preparing to move to a foreign land and live in a different culture. God used these prayers to give the Holsteges grace, and all the reports coming to synod are that God is sustaining them mightily. They are adjusting well.
Not only that, but the work is progressing. A denomination of churches is coming into its own—teaching the youth catechism, preaching the Heidelberg Catechism, holding regular orderly meetings of consistory and classis, and seeing the need for a seminary to train their own ministers for the future. Under the blessing of God, the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines are ready for and desire to establish a sister-church relationship with the PRCA. And Synod 2017, with joy, voted to establish such a relationship, to be confirmed after consulting with our sister churches in Northern Ireland and Singapore.
Shall we now leave out of our prayers the Philippines’ churches and the work? Do the Kleyns and Holsteges no longer need the Lord’s strength and blessing? Ought we not rather have more fervent requests? We have even more reason to press the Lord that He would give us another missionary—the work is overwhelming, and the need for theological education expands. Ought we not pray earnestly that God blesses the new sister relationship, as well as the existing relationships for the blessing of all involved and for the glory of His name?
And shall we not pray too that God continues to bless our other contacts—in Germany, Namibia, South Africa, as well as our brothers and sisters in Australia (the Evangelical Presbyterian Church)? And must not we be fervently praying that God will bless other mission projects of individual churches in India and Myanmar, and that He will open doors in North America for a missionary? Without God’s blessing, all these activities are of no value. Let us continue to pray!
Not all of the work of the synod was so positive as these many blessings discussed thus far. As was reported in the preview of the synodical agenda, ten protests and appeals were brought to the Synod of 2017. They involved doctrine—the place of good works in our salvation; practice—admittance to the Lord’s Supper and discipline; and worship—Psalter revision.
In all the synod’s deliberations, it was evident that the churches had been praying, and were still praying as synod met, that the delegates would have wisdom and guidance. It was very obvious. Delegates came to the deliberative assembly with their own views and convictions on these protests and appeals. They were not all of one mind on how to deal with each of these significant matters. Indeed, one doctrinal issue resurrected (by protest) decisions of the Synod of 2016, at which the delegates were quite divided. What would happen at the Synod of 2017, we all wondered.
The people prayed earnestly and fervently, and the Lord heard. There is no other explanation. There is no other explanation for the unanimity on the matters in the committees that prepared advice through many hours of collective study and writing (and rarely was any material recommitted to the committee). There is no other explanation for the Christian love displayed and the brotherly concern expressed in the discussions, even though the views were sharply and clearly expressed on all sides. And there is no other explanation for the fact that virtually all the motions were adopted unanimously, or very nearly so. God gave wisdom and guidance. The outcome was not what all who were praying hoped for, as regards the actual decisions. But their many petitions for wisdom and guidance God heard.
So, do we cease praying now? The conflicts are over at the synodical level, and the issues settled. The hour of need for the denomination is over, it would seem.
Whether that is the correct perception or not, the burden of this editorial is to urge us neither to reduce the petitions nor to diminish the fervency. Is it not obvious that those who appealed and protested need our prayers, particularly when issues for many still need to be resolved personally? Is it not apparent that troubled congregations, consistories, ministers, and members alike need our prayers for wisdom, humility, guidance, and brotherly love?
We are a praying people. In a time of crisis—the sudden death of a seventeen-year old, a ten-year old diagnosed with leukemia, an unexpected death of a wife or husband—we pray much for those touched by grief and hardship. For a while. All who have gone through such trials testify that they experienced God’s grace, that the prayers of God’s people held them up, and that God provided astounding strength through the prayers. But then we get caught up in the affairs of everyday life, and we neglect praying regularly for these saints. And the loneliness and burden can become overwhelming without the prayers and encouragement of the saints.
Let us not allow that to happen. Beloved saints, be encouraged. God hears and answers prayer. Keep on praying for His indispensable blessing on the decisions of Synod 2017, and on all who are yet struggling. He will hear when we call.